July 30, 2008
‘CSI’ Searching for a New Mystery Man
By Maureen Ryan
LOS ANGELES -- After years of stability in its lead cast, "CSI" has been rocked by a series of changes in the last year or so.
The biggest, of course, is the departure of William Petersen as lead investigator Gil Grissom after Episode 10 of the new season of the hit CBS show. He may return occasionally, but the actor has other projects on the horizon, including a production of "Dublin Carol" at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre this fall.
To fill out the cast, "CSI" will be adding a new character, a doctor with an intriguing back story who will eventually take charge of the investigative unit. At the Television Critics Association press tour last week, I asked executive producer Naren Shankar about what the future held for the show. Here's what he said:
Episode 5 will feature the return of dominatrix Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke of "The O.C."). "Grissom spends the night," Shankar said. "I'm not saying what he's doing there overnight. Let me tell you, it'll be by far the most provocative Lady Heather episode we've ever done."
Episode 7 will revolve around Natalie, the Miniature Killer.
For the 200th episode, director William Friedkin is coming back to direct an episode of the show.
Jorja Fox is back as Sara Sidle in the first two episodes, and she'll be back for several episodes later in the season.
Petersen will remain an executive producer on the show and "if (a) story line creatively needs Grissom then he's totally willing to come back and do it," Shankar said.
Here's Shankar's take on the new "CSI" character. When I told him that one reporter had characterized it as -- possibly -- a "serial killer joins 'CSI,"' he smiled and said, "it's really not that at all."
"What (CBS president) Nina (Tassler) was really getting at (when she talked about the character) was that the new character has a genetic complex, a number of different genes and elements, that have been correlated with criminal behavior."
This man becomes involved with the "CSI" unit over the course of an investigation, as an expert witness. "He's an academic, he has a background in clinical pathology," Shankar said.
Through the character's exposure to the world of criminal investigations and forensics, "he decides that this might be an interesting way to explore himself. He feels that if he has these genetic tendencies, maybe a way to see ... if he has the ability (to become) a criminal -- a way to look at it is by understanding and studying violent criminals, what they do and why they do it. In a sense it's like holding up a mirror to himself, but in an exciting and interesting way -- it's a new career," Shankar said.
Other reporters brought up the idea that the story line sounds like it might have been influenced by "Dexter."
"I love 'Dexter,' I absolutely adore it," Shankar said. "To me, 'Dexter' is not about a guy who's trying to decide if he's a serial killer. He is a serial killer. To me, 'Dexter' is about a guy who's trying to decide if he's a human being. It's actually the exact opposite" of the "CSI" story line. Our guy is not that guy.
"Our feeling is, and you never really know till you actually cast it, that he's going to a more volatile, maybe a little less predictable character than Grissom," he added.
Shankar couldn't address what actors the show was approaching to take the role, except to confirm that the show had approached John Malkovich, but that didn't work out. He said they were planning on the character joining the show in Episode 9 of the new season, so that the new guy and Petersen could interact for at least two episodes. They have about a month to find the actor, he said.
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